Consequences can be a trouble area for so many of The CW’s DC shows. With such long seasons (typically around 22 episodes), consequences are often arbitrary or short-lived. Remember when The Flash gave a single episode to Flashpoint, where Barry essentially splits the timeline? Though there was fallout teased from that and other “major” moments within the Arrow-verse (the explosion of Lian Yu, as another example), it’s rare to find any real commitment to follow-through. But Black Lightning has always distinguished itself as something very different within the CW’s DC lineup, not just because it stars a black superhero (actually, a family of black superheroes), but because it always grounds itself in a world we can recognize — one that includes real consequences.
Some of those are supernaturally-derived, of course, but many more just focus on general battle wounds. Early in Black Lightning’s second season, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) asks her mother how she can deal with the fact that they watched their family friend Gambi (James Remar) kill a man in front of them, and how Jennifer herself stunned someone who could be dead now. That’s a lot for a teenager to handle, especially one who is coming into her powers and struggling to control them. Violence against faceless drones is the norm in most superhero stories, so it’s nice to pause and remember that this is not the norm. These are all people, and death means something.
The bottom line is that nothing that happened in the Season 1 finale has been forgotten — Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) was notably absent at his school when it was attacked by Tobias Whale (Marvin Williams III), and did not return in the aftermath. While that was, of course, because he was literally there the entire time as Black Lightning, the school board doesn’t see it that way, and asks him to step down. Lynn’s (Christine Adams) world has also been changed by what she witnessed in the finale, and in navigating this new world with not only a super-powered husband, two super-powered daughters, but a bunch of Green Light-affected kids who are still in pods. Anissa’s (Nafessa Williams) consequences seem yet to come, though, as she confidently — or perhaps recklessly — strides through the opening three episodes of the new season with a swagger her father is afraid will get her killed.
As always, Black Lightning is juggling a myriad of plots, not all of which land as well as others, but it keeps the series fast-paced and unexpected. That includes the choice (the right choice) the series made to not kill off Tobias Whale last season, keeping him as the criminal kingpin of Freeland and Jefferson’s main foe. And while there are several other characters who are dispatched of pretty early into Season 2, somewhat jarringly, it continues to create stakes and, yes, consequences in this world. Most importantly, Black Lightning is never beholden to Tobias as its Big Bad, or to storytelling that has to involve Metas of the Week. It’s bigger and deeper than that, and superheroics are just one aspect of it.
It’s in the show’s quieter moments, when the Pierces come together and talk in pairs or unite as a family, where Black Lightning really shines. The series’ dialogue and the way the core characters interact has always been extremely relaxed, real, and often punctuated with humor. It keeps the melodrama balanced, and it makes the Pierces feel like a family you would know, one that isn’t always focused on a major villain and how to defeat them, but rather, the more regular moments of their lives.
Of course, Black Lightning is also focused on the larger world in Freeland, and it continues to explore the city’s issues this season with a bold voice and savvy storytelling. While some of those stories feel ripped from the headlines, and fought by a resistance movement within Freeland’s black community, not everything is about a fight. Sometimes it’s about being proactive, and in that, there is a clear attempt in the new season to de-stigmatize mental health issues. That’s no small thing. Lynn encourages Jefferson to see a therapist given everything is holding onto (and not always holding onto well), but she’s even more focused on getting help for Jennifer, who seems to be spiraling out of control — something Jennifer balks at, and then ultimately accepts. It’s one of the season’s more nuanced threads, and it’s an exceptionally important one.
The series continues to be one of the most thought-provoking on television, especially as a superhero show, one that doesn’t shy away from current events or what they mean for a black hero trying to keep the streets safe. The additional dynamic of the Pierce family fighting together, each embracing their own strengths and calling out each others’ weaknesses with love, makes for a unique series even in a culture saturated with superheroes. Black Lightning is not without its own flaws, including occasionally disjointed or abrupt storytelling, but its clear desire to educate and inspire through compelling family drama continues to make it a show of consequence.
Black Lightning returns to The CW Tuesday, October 9th.